The Buffalo Bill have signed all their draft picks save for the top three: cornerback Stephon Gilmore, lineman Cordy Glenn, and receiver TJ Graham. Though those already signed will likely be contributors in 2012, it is the above three names that will be looking to become immediate starters for the upcoming season, leading some to wonder which Bills will have to take a demotion. While there are no guarantees for rookies to start, here's a look at established Buffalo players who may be riding some pine come 2012.
- There's a pretty tight battle for who'll be the number two to Steve Johnson, who'll be the speed demon on the other side of the field to draw defenders and stretch the field. Last year, injuries resulted in receiver by committee, with Donald Jones, Marcus Easley, Kamar Aiken, and David Nelson now all in the discussion as shots at Robin to Stevie's Batman. Nelson looked to be most comfortable playing the slot position, so we'll just assume he's the #3 this season, but examining the other four options, you're left looking at receivers who look great on paper, yet haven't truly shown any on field assurities yet.
Jones seems the odds on favorite and was putting together a nice little season before going down with injuries week 11. He had some big plays for Buffalo last year, including a big 4th and 2 against Oakland week 2 near the end of the game. In seven games, he grabbed 23 for 231 yards and a TD, averaging 10 yards per catch and leading all Buffalo receivers not names Johnson. Aiken and Easley, however, are in the same boat as Graham, with great Combine stats (they all ran at least a 4.45 40), but no NFL numbers to gage their pro abilities.
If Graham ends up proving he's the number two receiver for Buffalo in 2012 (he had 92 rec, 1337 yds, and 10 TDs at NC State), it'll likely be at the cost of Easley or Aiken, as Jones' skill set makes him another option at slot or as a number four. Graham will be the new Roscoe Parrish in Buffalo, doing double duty on kick return (he had 2 punt TDs and 2 kick return TDs in college, with a total return yards of 3636) and contributing in the offense if his route running proves to be as dependable as his speed. Based on the limited preseason they put up, I'd take Easley over Aiken, as Marcus measures at 6'2", 221 lbs, but can still do a 4.39 40 yd. Aiken may have stuck around after being taken as an undrafted free agent in 2011, but I'd guess he'll take a back seat for the majority of the season to Graham, Jones, and Easley.
- He's a definite starter, with no real downside to his game. Long, quick, strong; Glenn's a starter, plain and simple, but it'll have to be at the cost of a projected starter. That means that once projected starter Chris Hairston will likely be taken from his starting role at left tackle and transferred to a backup role for 2012. In truth, Hairston came out of Clemson in 2011 as a right tackle prospect, with the size and strength to anchor the strong size, but without the athleticism to truly operate in space or get to the second level.
Glenn, however, has had the Bills' attention for most of the off season and they were shocked to find him still available to start the second round. Cordy has the right speed (5.15 40, 5th among lineman) and length for the position (his arm's measure at 35 3/4"), but is surprisingly heavy for all the athleticism (345 lbs) and should be able to manhandle opposing defenders on the weak side. His wingspan is amazing, forcing defenders to take wide detours around him and while Hairston was a great backup when Demetress Bell went down last season, he just doesn't have enough upside to compete against Glenn's.
Add Cordy's size, strength, and athleticism to his established work blocking against SEC (read: Pro level) defenses and his adaptability, playing several positions at Georgia, and you've got to think Nix was right in his assessment that Glenn's an immediate starter in 2012. That means, Hairston better have one heck of a training camp, or else he'll be playing backup to either Glenn or right tackle Erik Pears in 2011.
- Nix himself said it, with the #10 pick, you expect, if not a starter, than a contributor and playmaker right off the bat. Gilmore has that ability, coming from South Carolina where he was a 3 year, 40-game starter in the rough and tumble world of the SEC defense. His career stats include 173 tackles, 7 sacks, 8 INTs, playing boundary corner on a team where he led in tackles for 2010. As per the Gamecock's homepage, "[Gilmore's] work ethic and competitiveness are unmatched" and he exited college as an All-SEC and All-American. No defender from South Carolina has been taken this high since 2004 (Dunta Robinson at the same #10 pick) and he is almost universally recognized as an immediate starter.
So... Does that mean Buffalo's former first round darling (#11 in 2008) Leodis McKelvin will be riding the backup train, or will the forever injured Terrence McGee find himself resting even if he's healthy? If the last few years are any indication, McGee could see himself starting the year, as he's got spectacular stats when not recovering. In his nine seasons (all with Buffalo), McGee has 511 tackles, 87 pass deflections, 17 INTs, and a TD, but he's only played 15 games the last two seasons. However, in his 6 starts last season, McGee had 28 tackles and 2 pass deflections, while McKelvin played all 16 games in 2011, but managed only 11 more tackles (39) and a single INT. For a former first round pick, McKelvin's best season was 2010 when he managed 62 tackles, 11 pass deflections, and 2 INTs. McGee has exceeded 62 tackles and matched or bettered the 11 deflections and 2 INTs five times, but while Leodis has played three full seasons in four years, McGee has only a single 16 games season under his belt.
Who sits? Well, as long as McGee continues his dedication to being healthy for 2012, it'll likely be McKelvin's spot to lose, as Gilmore's drive won't have him resting on his laurels. There's no reason to believe the McKelvin will just lay down either, but watching footage of Stephon covering the SEC's top receivers, all he needs to do is improve his bump and run skills (he played a lot of zone in college), maybe get a little stronger, and he can leave Leodis in the dust. With the departure of Florence, McKelvin may have stayed his execution even if he loses the starting job, as the Bills won't put all their eggs in the fragile McGee basket, but with Terrence done at the end of 2012, McKelvin at the end of 2013, who knows how long those stays will be. With Ron Brooks waiting in the wings, neither the veteran McGee or former first rounder McKelvin have the luxury of job security anymore.
As Buffalo hammers out the final details for the remaining rookies, the Bills mentioned above are undoubtedly hitting the weights and elevating their games to try and keep their jobs in the face of the upstarts. While there's no guarantee that any of the 2012 Draft picks will be finding themselves starting come September, that's no reason for Hairston, Aiken, Jones, Easley, McGee, or (especially) McKelvin to think they're safe either.
Regardless, you've got to love the depth and promise Buffalo's showing for 2012.